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Smithsonian Magazine Recognizes Self-Help Enterprises’ Dedication to Helping America’s Working Poor

In an article published in the December 2016 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, author Dale Maharidge chronicled the struggles that many of America’s working poor, including high poverty rates, housing affordability issues and food-scarcity.  While just over 43 million people, or 13.5 percent of the population, live below the poverty line ($11,880) in the United States, over 31 percent – over 101 million – of Americans are considered “low-income,” meaning they make no more than $48,600 for a family of four or $23,760 for a single person.  These families’ low-incomes means that affording safe housing is frequently an issue, particularly because of the ever-increasing cost of housing. A portion of the article is dedicated to America’s farmworkers.  Even though these people work long, back-breaking shifts, due in part to the seasonal nature of farming crops, these families often face great difficulty in affording basic necessities – like a safe place to call home and decent food – even while working full-time. In California’s Central Valley, where Self-Help Enterprises, Inc. works, farms growing 250 different crops produce a fourth of the nation’s food.  The article noted that since SHE was founded in 1965, it has helped family participants create over 6,200 homes in the region through the self-help housing program, which allows participants to use “sweat equity” in place of a down payment. By contributing at least 40 hours a week over the roughly one-year construction period, the families complete 65 percent of the labor in their homes with the help of their future...
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Income, Poverty and Population in Rural America

The U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report on poverty and income in America was released on September 13, 2016. The findings of this report have been highlighted by many sources as an example of the economic growth experienced in many communities in recent years, noting that the median household income increased 5.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, the fastest increase on record.  For example, the White House Blog stated that the “report from the Census Bureau shows the remarkable progress that American families have made as the recovery continues to strengthen. . . . Income grew for households across the income distribution, with the fastest growth among lower- and middle-income households.” While statements like this are certainly supported by the findings of the Census report, they do not provide a complete picture as to where this growth has occurred and the economic state of communities all around the country.  Specifically, within metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), income levels rose six percent (7.3 percent for city dwellers, 4 percent for suburban and exurban residents).  Alternatively, the income levels for rural communities (including micropolitan statistical areas and areas outside of MSAs and micropolitan areas) declined by 2 percent. A 2015 CAP report, “The Uneven Housing Recovery,” found that while many Americans have recovered from the economic recession, those that have not primarily reside in rural and nonmetropolitan areas.  The improved economies in metropolitan areas is related to growing populations and strengthening labor markets, which have aided these areas’ recovery from the recession. Differentiated from metropolitan counties, small rural communities, which have not experienced the same level of recovery, have seen shrinking populations.  In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service (ERS) found that between 2010 and 2015 the population of rural communities dropped 33,000 per year from 2010-2014 and 4,000 in 2015.  Comparatively, between 2010 and 2014, the urban population increased by more than two million people each year. Decreasing populations in rural communities present unique challenges, and are a further issue impeding economic growth for these areas.  For example, the Census report found that poverty rates overall declined 1.2 percent from 14.8 percent in 2014 to 13.5 percent in 2015.  As with the Census report’s findings on income, declining poverty overall does not mean poverty has not increased in certain communities. From 2014 to 2015, the actual number of rural Americans living in poverty declined from around 8.2 million to 7.4...
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Achieving the American Dream through Programs that Work

Alton and Robin Alexander lived in Western Michigan with their two daughters in a comfortable, modest and safe neighborhood prior to the Great Recession. However, as the nation’s economy struggled, this family of four lost their home and was forced to move into a substandard rental unit. The Alexanders’ story is not unique. Homeownership is considered a central tenet of the American Dream, but its value to families and communities is sometimes overlooked. June is National Homeownership Month, which shines a spotlight on the value of homeownership. For many low and moderate income rural families, homeownership is only possible through financing from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing Service programs. In Fiscal Year 2015 alone, USDA Rural Development awarded $900 million Section 502 direct single-family housing loans and made more than $18.6 billion Section 502 guarantees to help more than 141,000 rural American families become homeowners. One of those families is Jeff, a single father, and his four children in Morristown, Tennessee. Back injuries limited Jeff’s ability to work and the family lived in a doublewide trailer. Eventually the family moved in to affordable rental housing owned and maintained by Clinch-Powell RC&D, a Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises (FAHE) Member. With assistance from Clinch-Powell, Jeff applied for a Section 502 Direct loan. FAHE helped prepare the application. Jeff and his children will soon be moving into their new home. The Section 502 direct program is also an essential tool for the Mutual Self-Help Housing Program, where groups of six to 12 families are paired together to help build each other’s houses with technical assistance from non-profit organizations. This program, which includes more than 100 Self-Help Grantee Organizations in 40 states and territories, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015, and has helped more than 50,000 families build their own homes. The Self-Help housing program is bigger than just homeownership: through the technical assistance from organizations like the Coachella Valley Housing Corporation (CVHC), this program allows families to gain financial stability and builds communities where children can thrive. For example, in Mecca, California, CVHC helped the Rodriquez family, including four children, move from their dilapidated rental apartment into a safe, clean rental complex, and eventually to become homeowners through the Mutual Self Help program. Juan Rodriguez, one of those children, went on to graduate from UC Berkeley, and now helps CVHC improve the community he grew up in. The success...
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Under Secretary Mensah Meets with Central Valley Family Using USDA Funds for New Water Well

While in California last week, U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Lisa Mensah toured a self-help housing tract that Self-Help Enterprises is developing in Merced County and visited with a family that is a recipient of USDA funds. Representative Jim Costa (D-CA) was also on the tour. Under Secretary Mensah and Congressman Costa met with the Cabrera family, of Madera, California, who have spent the past two years without running water.  According to Tom Collishaw, the President and CEO of Self-Help Enterprises, the Cabreras are one of around 2,000 families in the rural Central Valley who are suffering from water shortages due to drought.  For the past two years, the Cabreras were forced to buy water to do basic tasks such as wash dishes and flush toilets, and to go to their children’s home to shower.  The Cabrera family, with help from Self-Help Enterprises, secured USDA funding, which includes a grant for a new electrical panel and a much needed loan to finance a new water well.  The Cabreras now have running water through a temporary water tank, and a permanent water well will be installed sometime in February.  For more information on the Under Secretary’s trip and the Cabreras, please read Dale Young’s article from ABC 30 Action News and Gregory Woods’ article on...
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2016 Omnibus Bill Includes Record Funding For Rural Housing Programs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE    Contact: Bob Rapoza National Rural Housing Coalition Phone: (202) 393-5225   2016 Omnibus Bill Includes Record Funding for Rural Housing Programs WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 2015 – Yesterday, Congress released the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2016. This bill funds several programs, including the Mutual Self-Help Housing Program, Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance, and HOME Investment Partnership Program, above the levels previously included in the House and Senate appropriations bills.  This funding will allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address the needs of rural communities. “The funding for rural housing programs in this year’s appropriations bill are the highest they have been in recent memory, and at least since the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1992,” said Bob Rapoza, the executive secretary of the National Rural Housing Coalition. “In an era of austerity, partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations, local community governments, and the federal government are essential.” Around 46.2 million Americans live in rural communities, and 8.2 million of them live in poverty. NRHC notes that 2.6 million of those people are children under 18.  Concentrated poverty leads to decreases in affordable standard housing, health conditions, and educational outcomes.  Even though housing in rural communities is generally less costly, because of lower incomes, higher poverty rates, limited housing stock, and limited access to credit, many rural Americans live in inadequate and substandard homes. Programs funded by the omnibus will provide the resources needed to develop and preserve affordable rural housing.  Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance payments are made to owners of USDA Section 515 financed rural multi-family homes to subsidize the rent payments of low- and very-low income tenants, who often have no other housing option. The funding level ensures all current very-low income tenants, including many elderly and persons with disabilities, will continue to have a safe, decent place to live. With the Mutual Self-Help Housing Program, 8 to 12 low- and very-low income family groups build their own homes with technical assistance and supervision from nonprofit housing organizations.  Self-help families put in an average of 1,189.9 labor hours in constructing their homes, while working regular jobs and caring for their children. The President’s budget proposed a significant cut to the Self-Help program, but Congress rejected this reduction. The omnibus will fund the program at the FY2015 level. The HOME Program, funded at $950 million for FY...
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Do Presidential Hopefuls Have a Plan for Rural America?

The presidential hopefuls are well underway in their respective campaigns, with a combined total of six debates over the past few month.  While many candidates are focused on how they can make America stronger, there has yet to be any major discussion on what their plans are for rural America.  Read more in Bob Rapoza’s article, “Do presidential hopefuls have a plan for rural America?” – published in The Hill on December 3,...
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